What it’s like transforming a business and a community in the middle of a pandemic 

By Kevin Teater  

Lionheart Coffee Company won the 2021 Oregon Business Hero award! This is one of the most exciting pieces of news to come out of downtown throughout the pandemic, and the award is well deserved. Read on below to see why Lionheart won  this award.   

The coffee shop with a heart as big as lions

Lionheart Coffee Company is owned by Lauren and Ben Reese, two native Beavertonians who consider this Lionheart location their “love letter to Beaverton.” Throughout the course of the pandemic, Lionheart invested in the downtown community in ways that are utterly unmatched. I’ll share more about these in the next section:  

1. Distributing 12,000 free meals to people in need.  

2. Partnering with the City of Beaverton to implement and run the 1st Street Dining Commons  

3. Supporting Hannah’s Heroes, a community cleanup program started by an 11-year-old neighbor from a nearby business.  

4. Worked with Pacific Foods to hand out meal boxes to out-of-work baristas and coffee professionals.  

5. Supported the distribution of mental wellness kits for young children.  

6. Collaborating with nonprofits and organizations on several one-off fundraisers.  

The amount of time, energy, and money that Lionheart poured into these efforts during a time that was more difficult than any small business owner could imagine (especially as a new business) makes Lionheart Coffee Company worthy of the 2021 Oregon Business of the Year award. They not only kept their own business alive and growing, but they helped others do the same.  

Responding to community need   

Ribbon cutting at Lionheart Coffee
Ribbon cutting at Lionheart Coffee

Lionheart Coffee Company opened in November 2019, just four months before the  pandemic. At that time, they were one of the 7 business participants in our CoSign  program, which resulted in them receiving a large blade sign designed by a local artist. Lionheart quickly became a staple in downtown over the next four months until March 2021 with its great historic preservation and adaptive reuse of the old  Doctor Mason building at 1st and Watson. It brought so much life and pedestrian traffic to the heart of downtown Beaverton and Restaurant Row. 

When the pandemic began in March of 2020,Lionheart began operating as a food resource  center for people in need. They collected community donations and made free lunches, many of which were distributed to students and families who lacked the support they normally received in school. Old staff even returned (unpaid) to make sandwiches and distribute meals. Throughout the course of the pandemic, Lionheart provided over 12,000 meals to people in need.  

Birth of the 1st Street Commons 

By July 2020, Lionheart Coffee had begun its partnership with the City of Beaverton to close 1st Street between Watson Avenue and Washington Avenue in order to add space for public outdoor seating. This resulted in the loss of 12 parking spaces, but opened up enough space for several dozen people to enjoy food and drink from  nearby businesses. Its implementation was far from easy, as there were pretty strong concerns from the community about the lack of parking. But with the City of Beaverton and Beaverton Downtown Association providing support, Lionheart was able to follow through and create a space that was better designed than anything  like it in the region.

The feedback on the 1st Street Dining Commons was overwhelmingly positive, with 95% of people thinking favorably of it in the fall of 2020. We even heard from nearby businesses since then that have said that they would have closed their doors forever without the presence of the Dining Commons. Even many of the non-restaurant businesses who were concerned about the loss of parking have seen it as a net positive for the community. Lauren Reese estimates that she has spent 600+ hours on Dining Commons work, and the Lionheart staff have added another 1200+ hours cleaning and maintaining  the space. If we multiply that by the value of volunteer time in Oregon ($24.73/hour), that totals over $45,000 that Lionheart has given in in-kind time. Furthermore, they have invested tens of thousands of dollars in funding the space, but thankfully that has been mostly been reimbursed via a grant agreement with the City of Beaverton.  

Lionheart Coffee Employees
Lionheart Coffee Employees

The State award is a mirror of the community’s gratitude 

Without Lionheart Coffee Company, the Dining Commons would have never existed. We still hear comments from new businesses and visitors to downtown that they see life here, and it’s in large part due to the presence of a safe outdoor space for people to eat and relax. We now have 12 businesses that have opened or that are opening soon, and many of them have been pulled here by the demonstrated support of downtown exhibited in the Dining Commons. And yet it is Lionheart that  drives it forward, often behind the scenes. It’s not just the Dining Commons that Lionheart has coordinated. They have also  partnered with an organization to hand out mental wellness kits for children, distributed meal boxes to out-of-work baristas and coffee professionals, and collaborated on several one-off fundraisers for organizations throughout the past year. 

Lastly, Lionheart Coffee Company has partnered with an 11-year-old neighbor to clean up downtown. Hannah is the daughter of a neighboring business owner, and  she started Hannah’s Heroes, a group of volunteers that clean-up downtown  together. Ben Reese has helped Hannah set up her social media account and has  helped her coordinate volunteers. This collaboration between business owners and  children brings us to the roots of a healthy community – clean streets, happy  children, and thriving businesses.  For everything Lionheart has done and continues to do, they are worthy of being  Business of the Year.  

The Lionheart team embraces humor through it all.
The Lionheart team embraces humor through it all.

Leadership, service and sharing helped everyone get through the challenge  

Lauren and Ben Reese have demonstrated true perseverance and grit. Owning a business is exhausting. Owning a business during COVID is even more so. And yet, they made it their mission to invest in their community during this time. While they have received emotional support from the community, they have at times really struggled with bullying from one of their neighboring businesses. It’s been draining for them, and I wish for them to be recognized for the economic life-saving efforts they have led. 

While the Dining Commons is a temporary installation it’s possible that an outdoor space here could become permanent (UPDATE: It has since been approved to stay long-term), it could dramatically shift the way our downtown operates for decades to come. We have learned a lot here, and I hope that it has centered us more on  creativity, flexibility, and perseverance. Without Lionheart Coffee this year, our streets would have been a lot more empty. The ability for us to keep building community would have been lacking. And yet, it’s not. And that’s in large part due to Lionheart. 

Lionheart Coffee Company has earned this​.  

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